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How to learn any language


Method by Barry Farber

So this is the first post on reviewing some various methods out there. I’ll be going through quite a bit of them, so rather than one huge long post  I thought it’d be snazzier to break em up. Each post will present the method, how I found/stumbled on it, and what I think about it, cons and pros wise. Enjoy, or not.

The Random Dude’s Book of Awesome Language Learning (called How to Learn any Language)

When I first decided that I wanted to learn 7 languages to native like fluency my wonderful Uncle Mike pirated (oh noes!) a bunch of e-books on language learning, language study materials, ect. ect. Sadly a bunch of it was crap, but within it I found a gem. I do so wish I could remember the author’s name, or much less what the book was called. However, on the bright side, I do remember Everything the guy ( Barry Farber) wrote about that was important since at the time I so conveniently wrote out the guideline in notes.

Of course, this dude wrote his book in the 70’s. This was when internet wasn’t around. This is when paper flashcards and poorly sourced books were what everyone had to deal with. And surprisingly, this guy was genius. The edition I got was a revised one to include cassette tapes, (yes, there was no such thing as cds little kids, once upon a time).

Here is an extremely quick abridged summary. If you have any specific questions, ask. This book wasn’t written for Japanese specifically but rather in generalizations. After reading you may find that you’ll naturally want to alter things a little, which is fine, I did.

1) Multi-track system- method to learn using various tools out there

2)Magic memory aids- Mnemonics for the win

3) The Plunge- Immersion = best


  • basic textbook (one that goes from beginner to advanced)
  • dictionary-one that delivers
  • phrase book
  • newspaper or magazine
  • student reader (children’s books)
  • Portable tape/cd player
  • Cassette/cd courses
  • recorder (tape, digital, ect.)
  • *lash cards
  • holder for flash cards, or rubber bands to bind them up
  • highlighter pen, normal stationery supplies

1)Getting Started:

A) Grammar book-

  • read first paragraph, understand, move to 2nd
  • write down all things not understood
  • continue until 5 points covered


  • first article, first paragraph, highlight all unknown words. (if you’re new, it will be the whole paragraph, don’t worry, but the second paragraph you might know some, start highlighting unknowns)
  • Dictionary and Flashcards – You’ll often find a word in the dictionary doesn’t always match up, follow these guidelines:

1)word exactly as it appears, flashcard it

2)ending changes – write base form and meaning on flashcard

3)unfindable – write it down in questions notebook

  • Continue FCing until first paragraph is complete

C)Phrase Book and Workbooks

*Get essential phrases on flashcards

  • Work through a few lessons, make sure you understand before progressing, flashcard all vocabulary

D)Audio tools

  • Start with one, but change out for multiple kinds, listen to movies/dramas/music in foreign tongue as well

1)Read, listen, Participate when you can always

2)divorce sight, participate

3)duel your audio tools- listen to English word, pause to come up with answer before they give it. Beat the tape, once you know a tape, move to a new one, circulate.


  • Rinse and repeat, find a rhythm that works for you


A)Use Hidden moments

  • if you want to learn faster, learn to control your extra minutes. Take FCs with you everywhere, test self while in line, waiting for water to boil, ect. There are often hours upon hours of time like this if you can learn to harness it.
  • Hidden moments do not make up for study time, always be sure to at least put 30 mins aside every day of the week, every week of the month, and every month of the year. The more breaks you take the more you will forget, all languages no matter the difficulty should be practiced every single day.
  • Audio
  • Listen only when you can only listen. Car rides, cleaning, ect. If you can read and listen, do it first, and foremost
  • Mnemonics
  • Create stories for words, pictographs

1)automatics- easy ones (example for JP namae = name)

2)almosters- toughies, ones that make you stretch the story

3)un-american sounds – get over it and learn them

4)fem. & masc. forms – fit them into the stories

5)Make it naughty. brain is more likely to remember things that are completely nutty and perverted than mild-mannered stories. don’t be afraid to use people you know.

3) The Plunge!

  • Talk, Talk, Talk
  • Speak to your recorder, listen to yourself, practice your pronunciation, this is really important, don’t shy away from practicing, if you do, you’ll suffer for it
  • Simulate Conversations
  • Pretend you’re mental! Talk to yourself and back to yourself, record your own conversations to fill in blanks later.
  • Talk to Natives

*There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to find native people to either write to or talk to. Let them correct you, corrections are a good thing, failing is good, it will only increase your knowledge and make you even better.

4)Games to Gain

  • Following three types of games you can do, otherwise, create games (board games generally are fun to make and play), find games where you can
  • Many times a day look at the things around you, list 5 words you don’t know and FC them.
  • listen to a foreign film, FC first 5 words you don’t know
  • make rewards for on the spot goals/games (i.e, hold breath while you name 5 objects to your right)

5)Additional Misc. Tips

  • Forget vulgarity and profanity, learn what actually matters first
  • 2nd language is easy from your first, learn your grammar terms
  • Say the words right, never accept mediocrity
  • Grace to continue- its okay to make mistakes, learn your corrections, and move on, don’t dwell on mistakes
  • Speak peace – love not war, being rude to others will misrepresent your country/race whether you mean to or not
  • Keep on it – keep schedules, stick to them, make yourself do it, succeed by going to bed learning something new that you didn’t know when you woke u

6)Making your FCs- Tips

    Offered setup for your cards is separated into two fields, Single words and Phrases. Make sure to make them spaced, write in ink (pencil fades to fast), and write clearly. It sucks to misprint something and have to relearn a word.

    • Single words should be written on a FC that is laying horizontal, write top to bottom no more than 6 single words, then flip, and write meanings for the six
    • Phrases should be write on FC that is laying vertical. write left to right (or traditional way of language), no more than 6 phrases, flip and write answers.

    Like a lot of us out there, he loved languages and wanted to speak many. He tried lots of things and realized that surrounding himself with many methods out there he was able to obtain a great immersion that lead to proficiency. I happen to agree with this point. No source out there will give you everything you need to learn JP. So here are some pros and cons of this method:


    • Immersion environment
    • seeing your momentum in quantity of FCs made, material covered
    • No slow spots in studying, while gaining harder proficiency in some things you’re learning easy things (parroting phrases ect.)
    • Variety to starve off boredom, lots to see and do
    • addresses all language needs: Listening, Reading/writing, Speaking (with natives)
    • General enough to encompass lots of languages


    • outdated, FC’s can be replaced with a better method such as SRS
    • school book sources teach more wooden sounding languages
    • lots of internet out there, doesn’t address newer concerns for the technological age
    • Costs a LOT of start-up Dough (unless you’re super crafty)!
    • requires a lot of organization and management of materials
    • Doesn’t address language specifics concerns people may have.

    All in all, this book is defiantly worth a look over and its techniques applied. When applying it to Japanese you have to think of something he doesn’t seem to think much about. In his mind when learning kanji, you shouldn’t try to learn it in any special way at all, but rather as you see it and all your materials. I think in a way the number of flashcards you end up with is way too much. There is no need to hurt your hand so. With all the portable electronic devices out in the world today we can do better applications with it such as ANKI. (But of course, SRS’s didn’t exist really in his day, poor him!)

    So there you have it. How many people benefited from his style? Lots! He was in the military after all, and he caused lots of great learning techniques to be implemented in the training of military and civilian personnel.

    This book is a great backbone to think about, but it does require lots of modification to fit your respective language and desires. It requires you to research more materials (what text book, audio cds ect) too.

    Mikoto Neko

    The Ring leader of multiple projects who is studying japanese and raising a family! Who needs time for sleep?

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